WASHINGTON, D.C.—The House Rules Committee approved yesterday an amendment to the INVEST in America Act, offered by Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), that aims to increase road funding for the Marianas. Sablan’s amendment will be debated by the full House of Representatives, as it considers the $715-billion infrastructure bill over the next several days.
“Currently, road funding is divided among the Marianas and the other areas in a way that is disadvantageous to our islands,” Sablan said. “Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands get 40% each. The Marianas and American Samoa get 10% each. Those percentages are not based on population, or road mileage, or land area, or any other measure. And those percentages are not set in law. They are arbitrarily set by administrators in the Federal Highway Administration.”
Sablan’s amendment requires the Transportation secretary to develop a “data driven, equitable allocation” of the annual highway funding.
Slow spending blocks change
The Marianas delegate has tried repeatedly to get allocations changed administratively. And the Federal Highway Administration has admitted that any allocation based on objective measures would result in more money for the Marianas.
Sablan’s efforts, however, have been undermined because the Commonwealth typically carries a large backlog of funding compared to other insular governments. So, the FHWA argues, why change how much money the Marianas receives when it does not spend what it is already getting?
Last November, FHWA administrator Nicole R. Nason told Sablan the Commonwealth had over two years of funding unspent—“an unobligated balance of approximately $8.7 million….
“In contrast,” she wrote, “the unobligated balances for American Samoa and Guam were zero, and the U.S. Virgin Islands had an unobligated balance of less than $100,000.”
Even if the Commonwealth is slow to spend federal highway funds compared to the other insular governments, Sablan said, he wants to keep the issue alive with his amendment to the bill the House is debating this week.
Sablan’s amendment also requires the secretary to recommend an appropriate increase in the Territorial Highway Program funding. “It is always helpful to increase funding when shifting allocations,” Sablan said. “That way no one insular area suffers any great loss.”
$18.6 million in transportation earmarks for Marianas
Whether Sablan’s allocation amendment passes or not he was already able to include $18.6 million in earmarked funding for Marianas projects in the INVEST in America Act, when it was reported by committee on June 10.
“Everyone on Saipan who has talked to me about how congested our roads are will be glad to see so much of the earmarked money going to support the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority and public transportation,” Sablan said. “In particular, the 187 bus stops that COTA asked me to get money for will bring the bus system closer to people’s homes and provide shelter from the sun and the rain, making public transportation a better alternative to more expensive private cars.”
Sablan thanked the Office of Transit Authority and the Commonwealth Department of Public Works for working together with him in developing the project list that was included in the INVEST in America Act. (PR)